Five years ago I had to answer, “Why Yale?” In my application, I wrote about the things I thought would matter most to me here — the peer group, the proximity to New York, the loom in the Morse basement (I since learned that only students in Morse have access). In my final column for the News, I’d like to revisit that question.
From Directed Studies to the Shulman Seminars, the humanities lay at the heart of my Yale, pumping blood through all disciplines and departments, providing the most persuasive reasons for being here. It may be easiest to fill the new residential colleges with those students who will flock to CS50 and the labs across the street. But as so many resources shift to STEM, remember the centuries of resources that have accumulated in our libraries and galleries and among our faculty. On any given winter afternoon years from now, I hope the Beinecke reading room will be filled with undergrads looking up from their archival boxes to take in the view of the snow-topped Isamu Noguchi sculptures.
When answering “Why Yale?” the first time, someone gave me this piece of advice: It’s not what you bring to the campus that makes you the most desirable applicant. Rather, it’s demonstrating that you will make the best use of its resources once you arrive. Unlike other admission adages, this advice remained relevant long past my senior fall in 2012. I’ve loved Yale the most when I feel it’s telling me a secret: looking out onto High Street from the nook in the Art Gallery’s European gallery or attending a lecture in the Comparative Literature Library.
Let this criterion of curiosity hold for future applicants. Fill this campus with students equally excited about its resources and strengths, old and new. Do not treat the humanities as stable and stagnant; opportunities for fresh academic inquiry and expansion exist in areas studied at Yale for centuries, such as classics, and in newer disciplines, such as ethnicity, race and migration.
Though flashier projects may capture our attention, there is perhaps no project more important than faculty development. We’ve been told that student-faculty ratio has never been more favorable as Yale has prepared in recent years for the influx of 800 new undergraduates. The current ratios do not only impact class size, but also professors’ ability to dedicate time to their students outside of the classroom. This time has enabled me to find mentors across disciplines who challenge me, encourage me and guide me through Yale, down paths that I would not have been able to find on my own. My academic advisor imparts career advice while I listen to her son practice piano. I go on used-book-hunting day trips with the professor who advised my independent study. I’ve been persuaded into research projects in fields far from my interests.
I deeply worry about the expanded class size once the new colleges open and the impact that it will have not only on students’ ability to get into a seminar, but also their ability develop a relationship with professors beyond a two-hour weekly discussion. Reconsider the end to the hiring surge: Surely there must be some empty offices to fill in the Schwarzman Center.
Perhaps this column reads like it’s trying to say too much. It is. I keep running notes to track my column ideas. By the time this one makes it to print, I’ll probably have deleted all those unrealized fragments or moved them into some sentimental folder. I’ve always imagined that nobody actually reads these columns or anything I publish. Then someone will stop me on the street, shoot me an email or write a nasty comment, and I’m reminded that I have a readership and a relationship with those readers that I do truly value. I won’t have that again, and it’s difficult and strange.
To the News’ Managing Board of 2018: Please continue pushing to create stipends so that nobody has to choose between a student job and the job of being a student journalist. To the University: Remove the burden of the student income contribution, in part so that all student organizations, whether activist groups, performing arts organizations or community service programs, do not lose the talent that can’t afford the time it takes to participate.
The years ahead promise tremendous change for Yale. Let it be a time for this institution to face its many problems with courage and insure that the best parts of Yale today remain the University’s strengths in the future. Even in words, I cannot pin down and document everything I do not want to leave behind upon graduating; the people and things that I know I will miss when I no longer live here. But the most terrifying thought of all is the thought of returning to find them gone.
Caroline Sydney is a senior in Silliman College. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .